Best Practices

Product Management 101: Feature Adoption

Product managers and their teams work together to build and release features that they hope their product’s users will find valuable. However, shipping the feature is only the beginning — you need people to know about it, realize how it can help them, and eventually, to actually use it.

What is feature adoption?

Feature adoption is a user activation metric. It’s a numerical expression of how many users interact with a particular part or aspect (feature) of your product.

What’s the difference between feature adoption and product adoption?

Product adoption is a measure of user activation for a web or mobile application. It can be expressed as a count over time, such as monthly active users (MAU), or as a rate relative to signups for a given period. For example, Monthly Product Adoption Rate (%) = [new MAU / monthly signups] * 100.

Feature adoption, however, is measured by interaction with a specific feature, rather than login. It’s usually expressed in the same way as product adoption — MAU, adoption rate, etc.

Something else to note is that some companies consider stickiness as a measure of product adoption. Here, stickiness is the number of users who log in to the product a minimum number of times, expressed as a count over time.

Why does feature adoption matter?

Each new feature presents an opportunity for added value. Unused features, however, can have a converse effect. This is why customer success managers are often laser-focused on feature adoption, since key metrics like retention and expansion are contingent on minimizing time to value. Paying for unused features lowers a customer’s perceived value and, ultimately, affects their willingness to renew at the current price level (or at all).

How do feature announcements impact feature adoption?

New features will never see significant adoption if the user base is unaware of them. So discoverability and the announcement process are important parts of driving feature adoption. Most companies employ several channels for communicating updates: blog, email, social, customer meetings, and in-app notifications.

There are a few considerations that can help shape a feature adoption strategy. The first is relevance. Users are much more likely to respond to announcements that matter to them. Few features are deeply relevant to all users, so announcements should be tailored to the most appropriate user segments. The second consideration is the desired action. What do you want users to do upon reading the announcement? By delivering announcements as notifications and guidance in-app, companies can also measure whether new releases are delivering value and reduce the spike in support costs that often come with feature rollout.

What is feature adoption analytics?

Feature adoption analytics focuses the product- and customer success manager’s efforts on improving the performance of a product’s most critical features. When measuring feature launches, product managers and customer success managers should consider four key feature adoption analytics dimensions:

Breadth of adoption

How widely has a feature been adopted across the user base or a targeted user segment? Has the feature been picked up by a majority of the targeted users or only a small percentage? Breadth of adoption shows the initial appeal of the new feature.

Depth of adoption

How often do key user types touch the feature? Are they applying a desired process to demonstrate stickiness? Are they behaving in unexpected ways? Depth of adoption can signal relevance for an ongoing need or difficulty of use, so it’s important to keep a close eye on it and solicit feedback, if possible.

Time to adopt

How long does it take for customers to begin using a new feature? When learning about a feature, do they immediately try it or do they wait days or weeks before using it? The more quickly a feature is adopted, the more likely it aligns to an existing pain point.

Duration of adoption

How long do users continue to use a feature after learning about it? Do they just try it out a few times or continue to use it over the course of months and years? Duration aligns to retention and helps show whether a feature is providing real value beyond its initial novelty, and can signal when a feature needs a refresh.

What constitutes successful adoption across these dimensions is going to vary from use case to use case, but it’s important to consider all four when assessing the outcome of any feature release.

Recommended reading

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

Geoffrey A. Moore has written a number of books on the high-growth tech industry. This one focuses on bringing awareness (and eventually, adoption) of your product to larger and larger markets.

“Five Ways to Increase Feature Adoption Rates” by Suja Thomas

In the rush to build and ship new features, existing ones can fall by the wayside. Improve feature adoption rates of your hidden gems with these five tips.

“Introducing the Product Engagement Score” by Brian Crofts

The product engagement score is a function of feature adoption, stickiness, and retention, and can be a valuable metric for measuring product performance.

“Three KPIs All PMs Should Know How to Measure” by Shannon Bauman

Today’s product managers have access to huge amounts of data, and it can be a challenge to separate signal from noise. Narrow your focus to these three KPIs, the first of which is feature adoption.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

This book is a classic for entrepreneurs, particularly in the tech space. However, anyone looking to build something new — and get people to use it — can benefit from giving this one a read.